India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in his 5-day visit to Japan recently, had discussions with the concerned health authorities and Shinya Yamanaka, professor and stem cell pioneer of Japan, to find a clinical treatment for Sickle Cell Anaemia, which is very common in India.
In fact, anaemia is itself a very big social issue in our country, affecting a large number of people, especially the women and children. Sickle cell anaemia is one dangerous type of anaemia, which is quite prevalent in India, especially in the areas where outbreak of malaria is common. To treat other types of anaemia, there are specific treatments available. But sickle cell anaemia treatment is a complicated process for which there is no treatment.
What is Sickle Cell Anaemia?
Sickle cell anaemia basically is a genetic disorder that causes the red blood cells to take the shape of a crescent or sickle and hence the name. It causes the premature death of red blood cells, leading to inadequate supply of oxygen to various parts. The result is life-threatening health complications and in most cases death.
What are the causes of Sickle Cell Anaemia
The sickle cell gene is passed from generation to generation. It is an inherited blood disorder. A child is born with sickle cell disease either from his infected mother or father at the time of conception itself. The inheritance of sickle cell genes is purely a matter of chance. Sickle cell anaemia is not contagious. The severity and symptoms of sickle cell anaemia vary significantly from person to person, even within the same family. A person with sickle cell anaemia can lead a normal life too. But, there are unfortunate cases where a patient suffers from a variety of complications, leading to permanent damage to the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, spleen, and bones.
What are the symptoms of Sickle Cell Anaemia
- Severe pain
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Joint pain
- Arthritis and bone infections
- Blockage of blood flow in the spleen or liver
- Severe infections
What is the treatment for Sickle Cell Anaemia
Unfortunately, there is no permanent treatment for sickle cell anaemia. A patient may need to take folic acid all throughout his life, along with antibiotics. Doctors can simply reduce the severity of the symptoms but cannot cure the disease. In extreme cases, pain-killers, blood transfusion, bone marrow transplant, oxygen supply are recommended for the treatment of sickle cell disease.
In a country like India, appropriate measures should be taken by the Government and health authorities:
- Identification of high risk groups of communities through mass screening.
- Couples detected with genetic risk should be advised for prenatal diagnosis.
- Screening and counselling can lead to reduction in affected births.
- Public awareness about the disease and symptoms
Why a special emphasis on sickle cell anaemia is needed?
According to a report by Sickle Cell Disease International Organization (SCDIO) in 2013, almost 20 million children are born with this type of anaemia in India every year. With its present growth spread, in another 25-40 years, more than 1.5 crore children will suffer and die of this disease. The report also estimated around 3 crore people will inherit the abnormal genetic blood disorder trait.
In the developed countries like the US, the life expectancy of people with this kind of anaemia was as low as 42 years in 1994 and today the patients in the US live for 70 years and more, thanks to the improvement in medical science and health management. However, the same cannot be said for India.
Modi in his tenure as a Chief Minister had seen how the disease had been affecting the tribal population of Gujarat. Not only that, sickle cell anaemia is quite prevalent among the tribal population of some parts of Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and Tamil Nadu as well.
Modi has talks with Shinya Yamanaka in Japan
As seen in the discussions above, there is no treatment so far invented for the sickle cell disease. The remedies that are suggested by the doctors are very expensive and cannot be afforded by the poor people of our country. That is the reason, Modi in his visit to Japan sought the help of that country to find a treatment for the disease. He visited the Kyoto University and met the director of Kyoto University and Nobel Prize winner, Shinya Yamanaka and had a discussion with him on this. It is expected that both the countries will sign an agreement for this to study in great depth the disease and find a treatment as there is no known treatment for the disease presently.
The sickle cell anaemia is one of the most severe forms of genetic disorders and so it is very essential to be dealt with in India from public health point of view. It poses a great threat to the health of the country.
No doubt, the discussion with Japan by our Prime Minister is indicating a positive sign and hopefully we get to hear some good news soon.